Phillip Griffiths, headteacher of Solihull School

PUBLISHED: 17:02 24 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:15 20 February 2013

Phil Griffiths - medallion.

Phil Griffiths - medallion.

As Solihull School celebrates its 450th year, headteacher Phillip Griffiths looks back on his 38 years of service to the school.

When Phillip Griffiths joined Solihull School in 1972, it was all-boys, pupils were addressed by their surnames, masters wore gowns and Victorian wooden school desks were still in use. Today, the 1,000-pupil school is fully mixed, there are no boarders and the manual duplicator that covered teachers in purple ink has long been consigned to the technology history books.
Phillip took the job as history assistant at Solihull with the intention of staying two or three years. Thirty-eight years later he is retiring from the school. I applied to Solihull School because my wife Belinda was working in the area. I had the idea that I would stay for two to three years and then move on somewhere else to become a head of department, he says. I never left because I found the school very pleasant, the pupils agreeable and intelligent, and each time I discussed leaving the head would offer me a new role.
School life has changed considerably since 1972. It was a very conservative school then, so much so that my first class list showed only surnames and initials. My first step was to find out everyones first name and address them by it and now you will find that all pupils from seven to 18 are addressed by the staff in that way.
I believe this has helped to make the school more civilised, although discipline remains important and the common courtesies of pupils standing up when a teacher enters a room and addressing them as 'sir' or 'ma'am' has continued.
Technology has also changed schooling. The teaching process was very 'hands-on' and almost unrecognisable from todays world of interactive computer boards and overhead projectors. I remember having to use a manual duplicator to print off worksheets for classes and getting covered up to the elbow in purple dye, he says.
After schooldays in Coventry, Phillip studied history at Liverpool University, where he played for the First XV rugby team. A masters degree at Birmingham University, then teacher training in Norwich, followed. On joining Solihull School he taught Alevel history, working his way up as housemaster and then Warden of the Sixth Form Centre. After that he became Third Master, then Second Master, and in 2005 he took over as headmaster.
Over the years he has been involved in many of the changes such as the move from OLevels to GCSEs and more recently, the introduction of extended project qualifications for the most able Sixth Formers.
The Open University Young Applicants in Schools (YASS) scheme stretches our best A-level students by enabling them to study a range of undergraduate modules under their own steam, he says. It helps to differentiate them from other pupils when it comes to applying to traditional universities.
Saturday school ended in 1976 and the last boarders left ten years later. Since then the Warwick Road site, which the school has occupied since 1882, has been improved with new teaching blocks, sports centres and theatre buildings. The latest to open this year has been the 3 million David Turnbull Music School, named after a former head of music.
Phillip says his proudest achievement has been the move from an all-boys school to one with boys and girls in equal measure. The process began in 1973 with the first intake of girls in the Sixth Form and was finally completed this year with girls moving up to all levels after the Junior School went co-educational in 2005.

A thousand girls have now passed through the school. Co-education has made the school more relaxed and friendly while maintaining competitiveness in the classroom and our excellent academic results. As a true reflection of a changing society, it has also made our boys and girls better prepared for outside life.
Phillip's two children were educated at the school. Hannah, now a doctor, joined in the Sixth Form and returned last year to get married in the school chapel.
My son Simon is now a successful lawyer but was none too excited to be told that he would have to face an academic year being taught by me, said Phillip. He even put in an official protest because he thought it was unfair on him but was told by his head of department that he would have to put up with it!
Outside the classroom Phillip has coached rugby to all ages from Under 13s to Second XV. As officer-in-charge of the army section during his 24 years in the Combined Cadet Force, he organised the CCF centenary celebrations in 1998. Philip has also been Master of Terriers, an organisation that prepares pupils for the CCF, and was warden of the school's mountain cottage in Wales.
The cottage was sometimes the farthest that a pupil would travel on a school trip when I first joined the school. Now rugby tours to Australia, geography visits to Iceland, and science trips to America have
become commonplace.
Phillip has also been proud of Solihull Schools commitment to both the local community and the wider world. Whether its painting fences in the local park in association with Solihull Council or raising money for earthquake relief in Chile, with which we have a school exchange programme, our responsibilities have grown from the links we have developed.
So has he achieved everything he set out to achieve? Yes . . . almost, is the answer.
Ive had loads of fun, from abseiling out of a helicopter to watching the school in a rugby final at Twickenham, but Ive regretted never learning a musical instrument. The opening of our new music school has helped inspire me to learn to play the piano and fortunately my daughter has just bought one. Im hoping that after I retire she will find the time to teach her Dad.


Solihull Central Library is to host an exhibition celebrating Solihull Schools 450th anniversaryuntil 2nd July. A new history of the school is to be published by former teacher John Loynton this summer.

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